From college dropout to full-time professor

Waylon Baker’s journey to becoming a teacher

SJCC Communications Studies professor Waylon Baker (Maryellen Torres, Times Staff)

From North Dakota to Minnesota; from Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, New Jersey and then back to North Dakota, San Jose City College professor Waylon Baker eventually made his way to Silicon Valley.

Growing up, Baker moved around a lot. He graduated from St. John High School in North Dakota, and received his bachelor’s degree in communications from North Dakota State University. He also earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of North Dakota in communications and public discourse.

“I’ve definitely had so many outstanding teachers that I’ve experienced in high school and then college and graduate school, so it really modeled what I do based on what I’ve learned through the years,” Baker said.

Baker didn’t stop there. He went back to school at the institute of American Indian Arts and received his master’s in creative writing.

Completing a Ph.D. and Master of Fine Art degrees are his greatest achievements, as he previously dropped out of college.

“I started brand new, fresh at a big university where I was just a number; and first time being away from home, I made it for about a year and then I dropped out,” Baker said.

His perseverance helped him finish school even after dropping out.

“I think that’s the biggest thing; a lot of students go to college because that’s what they think they have to do and they are not ready,” Baker said. “I wasn’t mature enough and I wasn’t ready and I can admit that.”

Baker’s colleagues said he has made quite a difference working with other faculty and students at San Jose City College.

“Waylon is a collaborative, creative and innovative professor and colleague. He is fun to work with, and he is willing to take the lead on several departmental duties,” Communications studies professor Shelley Giacalone wrote in an email. “He has emerged as a leader in our department and on our campus. I have learned so much from him about teaching in our new virtual format, as he is a tech expert. I enjoy working with him, and I appreciate his adaptable ability to handle challenges.”

Baker said he became interested in teaching after being hired as a graduate student.

“I found that I love teaching, and I’ve pretty much been doing that ever since,” Baker said.

After finishing his degree programs, Baker said California is where he wanted to live.

“I wanted to be in a bigger place and wanted to be somewhere where they have nice weather,” Baker said. “It was a journey to get here, and now I’m here.”

Baker has been teaching Communications Studies at SJCC for more than two years.

“This is a great place to get your foundation,” Baker said. “It feels like a home, and the faculty and administrators have been very helpful, and our counselors are very hands on.”

SJCC alumni Johnson Tran, media studies major, said Baker inspires students to see their potential.

“Not only is he so open minded, but he really helps students open their views on what they could do with their lives and their opportunities out there,” Tran said. “He’s one of the few professors who told me that they really believe in me. I didn’t have much family support growing up so having someone like that in my life telling me that I’m capable and smart enough made me feel like I can do anything.”